A Billion Stars

Video Adapted from Kusen given on 7th November 2020

The Middle Way

Kusen no. 315 given on 3rd November 2020

What is ‘Nirvana’?

In this video John discusses Nirvana. Understanding the meaning is subtle partly due to issues of translation, but also interpretation. Here John discusses how we can understand it through attending to the originating metaphor.

Adapted from Kusen 314 given on 31st October 2020

The Snake of Emptiness

Nagarjuna once wrote, “Emptiness wrongly understood is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end”. In this video John unpacks some of the meaning contained in this simile, while also helping us to engage with emptiness in our own practice, without getting bitten.

Adapted from Kusen given on 24th October 2020

Emptiness and Fullness

In this video John talks about the Buddhist concept of emptiness as an antidote to the habitual clinging and grasping we tend to unconsciously engage in.
The state of emptiness has often been depicted using various metaphors, one common one is the dream. That is to say, our experience is not simply an illusion, yet it is also true that our experience cannot be grasped. And because it cannot be grasped, it can be fully lived.

Adpated from Kusen Given on 13th October 2020

The Good Physician

In the Buddhist Sutras one can find many ways in which the Buddha and his teachings have been described, one of the most persistent ways has been as a good physician, deftly prescribing just the right medicine for the patient at that particular time.
In this video, John explores this quite interesting way of describing the buddha and his teachings, which contrasts with early Abidharma attempts to create a complete philosophical system out the Buddha’s teachings.
The tendency to want to grasp for an explanatory schema is similar to our tendency to grasp our desires or fantasies. In this case, seen from the point of view of the Buddha as a physician, it is like we are swallowing the prescription instead of the medicine.

Adapted from Kusen given on 6th October.


The Direction of Practice

In this video John continues his theme of describing the core point of zazen with refference to the two pillars of non-attachment and non-separation. This time however he starts from the typical point of view of someone first starting out in practice. Taking the first steps in practice can often be the most difficult, since this is often the first time that we are really forced to listen to ourselves and our internal dialogue. Because of this it is often helpful to first get some distance from this ‘crappy person’, to stablise us, and for this we practice non-attachment. However true emancipation is attained through non-separation, the casting off of the self. It is through this non-separation that zazen can be seen as life afirming, joyful and connected.

Adapted from Kusen given on 3rd October 2020 ‘The Direction of Practice’

Non-Attachment, Non-Separation

In this video John clarifies what fundamentally the practice of zazen is, by reference to non-attachment and non-separation, which can be seen as the two principal pillars of Mahayana Buddhism. Although it is true that we cultivate non-attachment of thoughts and emotions to steady ourselves during our practice, it is non-separation which is the fundamental practice. In this we aim simply at sensation, without perception, discrimination, or judging. Such a practice manifests a world which is vivid, immediate, and momentary where there is no separation between this person and all beings.

Adapted from kusen given on 29th September 2020

The Gateless Gate Case 3

In this Video John discssuss case 3 of the gateless gate.

The Case:

This Koan tells the story of the 9th-century Chinese Zen master Jùzhī Yīzhǐ. Whenever Jùzhī Yīzhǐ was asked a question about Zen he would answer by raising one finger. One day someone asked his attendant what his master preached. The boy raised a finger. Hearing of this, Jùzhī Yīzhǐ cut off the boy’s finger with a knife. As the boy ran away Jùzhī Yīzhǐ called to him, when he turned his head, Jùzhī Yīzhǐ raised a finger, the boy was suddenly enlightened. When Jùzhī Yīzhǐ was about to die, he said to his assembled monks, “I received this one finger zen from Tenryu, I used it all my life, but never used it up”.

Adapted from a koan commentary given on 26th September 2020


The Posture Of Zazen

In this video John discusses the importance of the sitting posture and the body during Zazen.
It’s easy to get caught in the idea that meditation is something that is primarily going on in the head, with the goal being the controlling of thoughts, the calming the mind and the attainment of something, and the body being of little importance.
 John suggests looking at meditation in a different way, not primarily through the lens of consciousness but as a dynamic interplay between the alive and whole body, the dynamic breath, and wide awareness. Within that somewhere is the mind, but it’s no longer of prime importance. We put our body in the correct position and all of us is enlivened,  undetermined  by our mind.

Video adapted from kusen no. 308, given on 22nd September 2020